Italy has defined a clear-cut strategy for its Confederations Cup semifinal match against Spain on Thursday: Out-run the World Cup holders.
As far as Italy coach Cesare Prandelli is concerned, matching Spain's ball possession or passing skills is impossible. So in training Monday, running took priority over tactics.
The Azzurri players — at least the ones that are still healthy after a series of injuries — sprinted from one end of the field to the other at full speed about 10 times consecutively at one point, then stopped to have their heart rates checked by team trainers.
"We've got to get it into our heads that against Spain it's going to be a battle of suffering," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "Their ball possession is superior to ours and the Spanish are unbelievable at getting past any sort of trap set up by the opponents. They're excellent at holding on to the ball and attacking so we've got to try to make them run as much as possible."
Scandal back home
While they prepare to face Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinals, Italy's players are also attempting to make sense of the latest scandal back home.
Naples prosecutors said Tuesday they had ordered the search of dozens of Italian club offices as part of a tax evasion investigation relating to player contracts.
Financial police seized documents from most of the 20 clubs in Serie A, including AC Milan and Juventus.
Italy and Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio says, "Our national team is used to it, especially at these big competitions. ... We only heard about it a few hours ago so we'll see what comes out of it."
Italy has fared well amid other recent scandals, winning the 2006 World Cup and reaching last year's European Championship final.
— The Associated Press
Prandelli may be on to something with his strategy but it remains to be seen if his players have the stamina to execute such a plan.
Japan and Brazil ran circles around Italy in the first half of their group matches and two key Azzurri players have been sent home injured since the 4-2 loss to Brazil — forward Mario Balotelli left with a strained left thigh and fullback Ignazio Abate departed with a dislocated right shoulder.
Also, midfielder Andrea Pirlo sat out the Brazil match due to a muscle problem and has continued to train separately from the rest of the squad.
Daniele De Rossi, another midfielder, missed the Brazil game after picking up two yellow cards. Not surprisingly, De Rossi appeared among the freshest players in training, and he and Emanuele Giaccherini were the two fastest runners in the training exercise.
But running may not be enough against Spain, which routed Italy 4-0 in last year's European Championship final.
"Spain is much better off than then, if you consider how easily they advanced from the group and how solid they have been," Prandelli said. "They have a precise identity and they are the favourites without a doubt."
Including its 10-0 win over Tahiti, Spain outscored the opposition 15-1 in the first round.
Italy, by contrast, scored eight goals and allowed eight in the group phase.
Still, Prandelli does not seem concerned by his defence, even after attending Spain's 3-0 win over Nigeria on Sunday.
"The Nigerians created four scoring chances. In every match you're going to have four scoring chances but you've got to create at least six or seven, that's the future of football," Prandelli said. "We can't use the Italian league as a model anymore."
This tournament is a test for next year's World Cup, and Prandelli wants to return to Brazil in 2014 with "23 athletes, not just players" to better deal with the heat and humidity.
"And we'll need to give them time to prepare," he said. "If you arrive with the fuel tank empty everything becomes more difficult."
Against Spain, Alberto Gilardino will likely replace Balotelli at centre forward.
"We have to try and create situations where we outnumber the opponent," Prandelli said. "I want to see Italy play like we played the second half against Brazil — courageously and attacking."